Saturday, March 03, 2012

Correlation vs. Causation

Husband dropped by the lab to visit this week and take advantage of the free food and beer following a poster competition in which I had to present.  Last night, he commented that science must be really stressful, because he noticed most of the younger females (mid 20s-30s), especially in my lab, all had lots of grey hair.  Being a good little (rude) scientist, I immediately interrupted him mid-sentence, reminding him that correlation does not imply causation.

I offered up the alternative that, perhaps, lots of women in lots of fields are developing grey hairs by this point in their lives, but they are more proactive about hiding them.  I have a lot of friends who started experimenting with their hair color by the age of 14 and never stopped; they have no recollection of their natural hair color.  If you've been regularly dyeing your hair for 15 years, how would you even know if you had grey hair starting to come in?  Perhaps scientists, widely stereotyped for being fashion-challenged, never played around with hair color in the first place (I only tried once, attempting to dye my hair with purple manic panic in a hotel in Virginia Beach on a high school trip, but my hair was far too dark for it to show up).

Once those grey hairs show up noticeably, perhaps women in other more conservative, formal professions start scheduling regular 6-week appointments to cover up those greys.  Here in science, though -- well, if you could feasibly show up to work in a stained shirt and ripped jeans (frequently observed on male graduate students in the chemistry department), certainly no one is going to bat an eye at a few (or many) grey hairs.  When you're working 80+ hours/week for less financial compensation than anyone else you know working a normal 40 hour work week, there really isn't time or funding for regular hair appointments.

So, what are your thoughts?  Does working in science cause premature greying?  Or are scientists just too busy and/or unmotivated to keep up appearances as women in other fields?

And, most importantly, is this my husband's way of hinting that perhaps I need to take time out to do something about 4-months worth of grey roots?

13 comments:

  1. I've been dying my hair red since about 15, and since my hair doesn't keep color very well (black washes out in a month using permanent dye), I do know when I have grey hair. In fact, I found my first right around my 21st birthday (I was still in college at the time).

    I *like* my grey hair. In fact, I have hopes of starting to look like one of those earth mother types with long silver hair. As an added bonus, my grey hair comes in curly, so they look like corkscrews coming out of my head. I think it might be a little worse for those of us with dark hair.

    I am one of those fashion challenged people, however despite my greys, someone at work choked on what they were drinking when I told them how old I was this week. I'm not sure it's the science or the stress. Additionally, does grey hair on someone impeccably dressed look different than someone who's wearing a hoodie and jeans (which I work to work on Friday because I wasn't feeling well)?

    I wonder if it's considered premature grey hair because academic scientists are perceived to still be in school?

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    1. To be honest, in this town, I don't really see impeccably dressed women under the age of 60+ with grey hair. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with how professional many of the offices are in DC and very conservative standards of dress, but everyone looks extremely polished all the time, right down to perfect routine dye jobs.

      Many individuals do not really start to turn grey until they are in their mid-30s (my father got his first grey hair at 58!), so regardless of profession, I consider turning grey in your early or mid 20s (and not just one or two strands, but lots of noticeable greys) to be premature, whether or not one is still perceived to be in school.

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  2. Also possible- in fields where old age is an advantage (look at the average age for receiving an R01), there is less incentive to dye one's hair.

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  3. I think you are right: low on money, low on time, and why bother to dye, if you manage to dress nice you are an exception anyway ;)

    Makes me wonder though: should I dye my hair if I am going on a job interview Outside science???

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    1. I think as long as you look professional and tidy, no one should give a second thought to grey hair. If YOU want to cover it up, then absolutely (my personal preference, when given appropriate time and funding, is to cover mine -- I think being THIS grey before 30 really ages me)... but if you don't care one way or the other, I say let it be. Unless you have a job where physical appearance is paramount (TV broadcaster, politician, actress, etc) I don't think hair color should be a consideration.

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  4. i found my first grey's in high school, i was 17. ever since, i've dyed my hair every 6-8 weeks (or every 2-3 if happened to be red!). my PI is one of those earth mother types, but honestly, i have a baby face for my age and no desire to look like i should chronologically!

    that said, i have to say, i agree with becca, and with your point that it doesn't matter what we wear to lab so i can see why some people just let the grey grow :)

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  5. Maybe he should add being a mom into that category as well, because I have greys popping up like it's my job. And no time or money to get them fixed (even as a SAHM)!

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    1. Yes, I'd imagine SAHM to fall into a similar category -- no need to look "professional" on a daily basis (and I mean this in reference to bench scientists like myself; I'm sure there are lots of other scientific professions that have more of a focus on appearance) so things that time time and money start to fall by the wayside!

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  6. I don't want to get them "fixed", I like them, they started in my very early 20s and are evening out nicely now. And yes, if male colleagues can wear the sort of clothing they wear to work (which look like decorating clothes to me, which is even lower down the presentable scale than fieldwork clothes, and I'm not known for my smartness), there's very little incentive to have that 'artifically groomed' look...

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    1. I'm unsure what you mean by "artificially groomed." Goodness knows I don't have the time/incentive to do so, but I don't think people who do take the time in the morning to ensure perfectly coifed hair look artificial or any less real than someone who tosses their hair up in a knot on top of their head.

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  7. I am one of those anomalous graduate students who really enjoys dressing up (my friends/colleagues all know I'm coming before they see me by the distinctive sound of my favorite high heeled boots) but I never dye my grey hair. I've had white coming in since I was 10 (ah genetics), and while I played with hair dye (purple, black) in college, I found quickly that my sensitive skin did not take to it well. However, until very recently, all those whites are in underlayers. It hasn't been until this past year that I see any in my part.

    I don't foresee myself changing this in the foreseeable future. Even with my grey, no one ever guesses that I am above 30.

    The other anomalous dressy grad students DO dye their hair, though. I have one friend who regularly does highlights, an old labmate who preferred to be a blonde rather than a brunette. I wonder how much of this has to do with coastal variations rather than vocational variation?

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  8. I don't see a higher frequency of greys among biomed scientists than in other fields, though I could not guarantee that there isn't covert dying going on. Having worked with scientists in both academia and industry, I didn't see a greater instance of grey hair in the academics, even among the student population vs faculty vs fellows/residents over those in industry which should eliminate the time and financial aspect. Though, in certain fields appearances matter, they matter at formal events and at other times the less groomed were apt to show up in jeans or scrubs. The hair didn't change.

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  9. Hey Julie, how are you?

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